Psalm 90:4
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
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(4) A thousand years.—This verse, which, when Peter II. was written (see New Testament Commentary), had already begun to receive an arithmetical treatment, and to be made the basis for Millennarian computations, merely contrasts the unchangeableness and eternity of the Divine existence and purpose with the vicissitudes incident to the brief life of man. To One who is from the infinite past to the infinite future, and Whose purpose runs through the ages, a thousand years are no more than a yesterday to man:

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death;”

or even as a part of the night passed in sleep:

“A thousand years, with Thee they are no more

Than yesterday, which, ere it is, is spent.

Or, as a watch by night, that course doth keep,

And goes and comes, unwares to them that sleep.”


The exact rendering of the words translated in the Authorised Version, “when it passeth,” is doubtful. The LXX. have, “which has passed;” and the Syriac supports this rendering. For the “night watches,” see Note, Psalm 63:6.

Psalm 90:4. For a thousand years — If we should now live so long, (as some of our progenitors nearly did,) in thy sight — In thy account, and therefore in truth; which is opposed to the partial and false judgment of men, who think time long because they do not understand eternity; or, in comparison of thy endless duration, are but as yesterday, when it is past — Which is emphatically added, because time seems long when it is to come, but when it is passed, and men look back upon it, it seems very short and contemptible. And as a watch in the night — Which lasted but three or four hours.90:1-6 It is supposed that this psalm refers to the sentence passed on Israel in the wilderness, Nu 14. The favour and protection of God are the only sure rest and comfort of the soul in this evil world. Christ Jesus is the refuge and dwelling-place to which we may repair. We are dying creatures, all our comforts in the world are dying comforts, but God is an ever-living God, and believers find him so. When God, by sickness, or other afflictions, turns men to destruction, he thereby calls men to return unto him to repent of their sins, and live a new life. A thousand years are nothing to God's eternity: between a minute and a million of years there is some proportion; between time and eternity there is none. All the events of a thousand years, whether past or to come, are more present to the Eternal Mind, than what was done in the last hour is to us. And in the resurrection, the body and soul shall both return and be united again. Time passes unobserved by us, as with men asleep; and when it is past, it is as nothing. It is a short and quickly-passing life, as the waters of a flood. Man does but flourish as the grass, which, when the winter of old age comes, will wither; but he may be mown down by disease or disaster.For a thousand years in thy sight - Hebrew, "In thy eyes;" that is, It so appears to thee - or, a thousand years so seem to thee, however long they may appear to man. The utmost length to which the life of man has reached - in the case of Methuselah - was nearly a thousand years Genesis 5:27; and the idea here is, that the longest human life, even if it should be lengthened out to a thousand years, would be in the sight of God, or in comparison with his years, but as a single day.

Are but as yesterday when it is past - Margin, "he hath passed them." The translation in the text, however, best expresses the sense. The reference is to a single day, when we call it to remembrance. However long it may have appeared to us when it was passing, yet when it is gone, and we look back to it, it seems short. So the longest period of human existence appears to God.

And as a watch in the night - This refers to a portion of the night - the original idea having been derived from the practice of dividing the night into portions, during which a watch was placed in a camp. These watches were, of course, relieved at intervals, and the night came to be divided, in accordance with this arrangement, into parts corresponding with these changes. Among the ancient Hebrews there were only three night-watches; the first, mentioned in Lamentations 2:19; the middle, mentioned in Judges 7:19; and the third, mentioned in Exodus 14:24; 1 Samuel 11:11. In later times - the times referred to in the New Testament - there were four such watches, after the manner of the Romans, Mark 13:35. The idea here is not that such a watch in the night would seem to pass quickly, or that it would seem short when it was gone, but that a thousand years seemed to God not only short as a day when it was past, but even as the parts of a day, or the divisions of a night when it was gone.

4. Even were our days now a thousand years, as Adam's, our life would be but a moment in God's sight (2Pe 3:8).

a watch—or, third part of a night (compare Ex 14:24).

A thousand years, if we should now live so long, as some of our progenitors well nigh did. As he compared man’s duration with God’s in respect of its beginning, Psalm 90:2, so here he compareth them in respect of the end or continuance.

In thy sight; in thy account, and therefore in truth; which is opposed to the partial and false judgment of men, who think time long because they do not understand eternity; or in comparison of thy endless duration.

When it is past; which is emphatically added; because time seems long when it is to come, but when it is past, and men look backward upon it, it seems very short and contemptible, and men value one hour to come more than a thousand years which are past.

A watch, which lasted but for three or four hours; for the night was anciently divided into three or four watches. See Judges 7:19 Mark 6:48 13:35 Luke 12:38.

In the night; which also hath its weight; for the silence and slumbers of the night make time seem shorter than it doth in the day. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday,.... Which may be said to obviate the difficulty in man's return, or resurrection, from the dead, taken from the length of time in which some have continued in the grave; which vanishes, when it is observed, that in thy sight, esteem, and account of God, a thousand years are but as one day; and therefore, should a man lie in the grave six or seven thousand years, it would be but as so many days with God; wherefore, if the resurrection is not incredible, as it is not, length of time can be no objection to it. Just in the same manner is this phrase used by the Apostle Peter, and who is thought to refer to this passage, to remove an objection against the second coming of Christ, taken from the continuance of things as they had been from the beginning, and from the time of the promise of it: see 2 Peter 3:4, though the words aptly express the disproportion there is between the eternal God and mortal man; for, was he to live a thousand years, which no man ever did, yet this would be as yesterday with God, with whom eternity itself is but a day, Isaiah 43:13, man is but of yesterday, that has lived the longest; and were he to live a thousand years, and that twice told, it would be but "as yesterday when it is past"; though it may seem a long time to come, yet when it is gone it is as nothing, and can never be fetched back again:

and as a watch in the night; which was divided sometimes into three, and sometimes into four parts, and so consisted but of three or four hours; and which, being in the night, is spent in sleep; so that, when a man wakes, it is but as a moment with him; so short is human life, even the longest, in the account of God; See Gill on Matthew 14:25.

{e} For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

(e) Though man thinks his life is long, which is indeed most short, yet though it were a thousand years, yet in God's sight it is as nothing, and as the watch that lasts only three hours.

4. The precise connexion of the thought is obscure. Some commentators connect Psalm 90:4 with Psalm 90:2, treating Psalm 90:3 as a parenthesis. ‘Thou art eternal, for lapse of time makes no difference to Thee.’ But it seems preferable to connect Psalm 90:4 directly with Psalm 90:3. ‘Thou sweepest away one generation after another, for the longest span of human life is but a day in Thy sight: though a man should outlive the years of Methuselah, it is as nothing in comparison with eternity.’

when it is past] Strictly, when it is on the point of passing away. A whole millennium to God, as He reviews it, is but as the past day when it draws towards its close,—a brief space with all its events still present and familiar to the mind. Cp. 2 Peter 3:8, where the converse truth is also affirmed; Sir 18:10.

and as a watch in the night] A climax. Said I like the past day? Nay, time no more exists for God than it does for the unconscious sleeper. The Israelites divided the night into three watches (Lamentations 2:19; Jdg 7:19; 1 Samuel 11:11). The division into four watches mentioned in the N.T. was of Roman origin.

How could the profound truth that time has no existence to the Divine mind be more simply and intelligibly expressed? To God there is no before and after; no past and future; all is present. To Him ‘was, and is, and will be, are but is.’ It is only the weakness of the finite creature that ‘shapes the shadow, Time.’Verse 4. - For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday. Time has no relation to God; it does not exist for him. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8) Therefore we must not judge his methods of working by our own. When it is past; rather, as it passes. And as a watch in the night. To the sleeper a night watch seems gone in a moment. After this statement of the present condition of things the psalmist begins to pray for the removal of all that is thus contradictory to the promise. The plaintive question, Psalm 89:47, with the exception of one word, is verbatim the same as Psalm 79:5. The wrath to which quousque refers, makes itself to be felt, as the intensifying (vid., Psalm 13:2) לנצח implies, in the intensity and duration of everlasting wrath. חלד is this temporal life which glides past secretly and unnoticed (Psalm 17:14); and זכר־אני is not equivalent to זכרני (instead of which by way of emphasis only זכרני אני can be said), but אני מה־חלד stands for מה־חלד אני - according to the sense equivalent to אני מה־חדל, Psalm 39:5, cf. Psalm 39:6. The conjecture of Houbigant and modern expositors, זכר אדני (cf. Psalm 89:51), is not needed, since the inverted position of the words is just the same as in Psalm 39:5. In Psalm 89:48 it is not pointed על־מה שׁוא, "wherefore (Job 10:2; Job 13:14) hast Thou in vain (Psalm 127:1) created?" (Hengstenberg), but על־מה־שּׁוא, on account of or for what a nothing (מה־שׁוא belonging together as adjective and substantive, as in Psalm 30:10; Job 26:14) hast Thou created all the children of men? (De Wette, Hupfeld, and Hitzig). על, of the ground of a matter and direct motive, which is better suited to the question in Psalm 89:49 than the other way of taking it: the life of all men passes on into death and Hades; why then might not God, within this brief space of time, this handbreadth, manifest Himself to His creatures as the merciful and kind, and not as the always angry God? The music strikes in here, and how can it do so otherwise than in elegiac mesto? If God's justice tarries and fails in this present world, then the Old Testament faith becomes sorely tempted and tried, because it is not able to find consolation in the life beyond. Thus it is with the faith of the poet in the present juncture of affairs, the outward appearance of which is in such perplexing contradiction to the loving-kindness sworn to David and also hitherto vouchsafed. חסדים has not the sense in this passage of the promises of favour, as in 2 Chronicles 6:42, but proofs of favour; הראשׁנים glances back at the long period of the reigns of David and of Solomon.

(Note: The Pasek between חראשׁנים and אדני is not designed merely to remove the limited predicate from the Lord, who is indeed the First and the Last, but also to secure its pronunciation to the guttural Aleph, which might be easily passed over after Mem; cf. Genesis 1:27; Genesis 21:17; Genesis 30:20; Genesis 42:21, and frequently.)

The Asaph Psalm 77 and the Tephilla Isaiah 63 contain similar complaints, just as in connection with Psalm 89:51 one is reminded of the Asaph Psalm 79:2, Psalm 79:10, and in connection with Psalm 89:52 of Psalm 79:12. The phrase נשׂא בחיקו is used in other instances of loving nurture, Numbers 11:12; Isaiah 40:11. In this passage it must have a sense akin to חרפּת עבדיך. It is impossible on syntactic grounds to regard כּל־רבּים עמּים as still dependent upon חרפּת (Ewald) or, as Hupfeld is fond of calling it, as a "post-liminiar" genitive. Can it be that the כל is perhaps a mutilation of כּלמּת, after Ezekiel 36:15, as Bttcher suggests? We do not need this conjecture. For (1) to carry any one in one's bosom, if he is an enemy, may signify: to be obliged to cherish him with the vexation proceeding from him (Jeremiah 15:15), without being able to get rid of him; (2) there is no doubt that רבּים can, after the manner of numerals, be placed before the substantive to which it belongs, Ezekiel 32:10, Proverbs 31:29; 1 Chronicles 28:5; Nehemiah 9:28; cf. the other position, e.g., Jeremiah 16:16; (3) consequently כּל־רבּים עמּים may signify the "totality of many peoples" just as well as כּל גּוים רבּים in Ezekiel 31:6. The poet complains as a member of the nation, as a citizen of the empire, that he is obliged to foster many nations in his bosom, inasmuch as the land of Israel was overwhelmed by the Egyptians and their allies, the Libyans, Troglodytes, and Ethiopians. The אשׁר which follows in Psalm 89:52 cannot now be referred back over Psalm 89:51 to חרפּת (quâ calumniâ), and yet the relative sense, not the confirmatory (because, quoniam), is at issue. We therefore refer it to עמים, and take אויביך as an apposition, as in Psalm 139:20 : who reproach Thee, (as) Thine enemies, Jahve, who reproach the footsteps (עקּבות as in Psalm 77:20 with Dag. dirimens, which gives it an emotional turn) of Thine anointed, i.e., they follow him everywhere, wheresoever he may go, and whatsoever he may do. With these significant words, עקּבות משׁיחך, the Third Book of the Psalms dies away.

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